LAS VEGAS, Nevada—The days of the beloved automobile as we know it are numbered.
Sad, yes, but if we’re honest with ourselves, the only thing that is surprising about this is what took so long. I mean, we live in the most technologically progressive era in the history of mankind; an era where we allow computers to guide us to the moon and back, (or at least fool the world that we did) fly our planes across oceans, and even breathe for us, yet here we are allowing something as mundane (yet in the wrong hands deadly) as driving to be done by the most unreliable technology on earth: humans.
How one of the biggest industries in the world happens to be one of the most archaic, employing 100-year old technology like the combustion engine and even older technology like people to operate it, will remain one of the greatest mysteries of the modern world. Some say it is the result of powerful lobby groups in Washington, others talk of a cartel, but whoever you credit for dodging the bullet for at least five decades, remains completely powerless to the disruptors.
People like Apple, Google, Tesla and Faraday Future (more on the last one in a future column) have their browsers aimed squarely at the automotive industry. And if history is any indicator, the dinosaurs should be afraid. Very afraid. This is not just an evolution; this here is a new age.
You see, while the dinosaurs continue to invest in improving old technology, disruptors like Apple, Tesla, Google and the like are rethinking the entire approach to the automobile and looking at it strictly as a mobility solution. It will have nothing to do with horsepower, torque, handling and performance; it is quite simply a this-is-how-we-can-do-this-better-for-you approach, much in the same way they had us throw out our CD collections for MP3s.
Thankfully, there are some players in the auto industry who have embraced the change. At the recently concluded CES in Las Vegas, Chevrolet announced the 200-mile (320km) Bolt for under $30,000; Ford announced their new smartphone integration plans, and Kia, well they took matters into their own hands. Literally.
It is called Drive Wise and it will have you wondering how we lived without it for so long. Not unlike any other autonomous driving technology that I’ve tried, Kia’s system is only different in how it combines all these features fluidly into a working concept that is nothing short of brilliant.
To showcase this incredible technology, Kia invited me out to the Mojave Desert in California to experience firsthand the future of driving. Using a Kia Soul, we (actually, we had little more to do with it other than pressing a button) navigated our way through a car park, out on to a simulated urban setting, then on to a 120 km/h freeway simulation.
The system was able to not only recognize traffic lights, lane markings, road signs, speed limits and freeway exits, but more importantly, random and unpredictable things like a cyclist cutting in front, a wayward pedestrian and even that selfish line-cutter in the freeway exit that squeezed in ahead of you.
All of this was conducted with a Kia engineer at the driver’s seat, but only because legislation is yet to allow a car to be driven without a licensed driver present in the driver’s seat. The only function they were able to demonstrate without a driver was the self-parking feature, which literally drives off without any occupants and scans the car park for empty spaces. Once activated, the system no longer relies on a connection between your car and your smart watch, so in theory, could spend the next couple of hours driving around searching for a spot while you’re in the mall.
It was quite a lot to absorb, and even harder to put into words, which is why I have uploaded a video on my website to give you a glimpse of the future. Visit www.jamesdeakin.ph.